Eager to improve
From left: NAPT President Alex Robinson; NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin; Mohammad Obaid Al Mulla, chairman of the conference organizing committee; and Mattar Al Tayer, chairman and executive director of the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority.
Speakers and delegates made 11 key recommendations (see sidebar
), covering such areas as school transportation safety and security, driver and student training, and standards for transporting special-needs students.
“There was definitely a commitment from the group to move forward with the recommendations,” Robinson said.
NAPT Executive Director Mike Martin said that although the U.S. has a "70- or 80-year head start" in school transportation compared to the Middle East and North Africa, "the gap will shrink quickly, particularly because policymakers there want to put as many kids on buses as possible; they view it as a smart investment."
Martin noted that officials there "have many of the same goals we have here, and the issues are similar, too — student behavior management, for example, is a challenge everywhere."
Some came to the conference to learn the fundamentals of a successful pupil transportation operation. Robinson said that one attendee, a U.K. expatriate who runs a private school in Dubai that doesn't currently offer transportation services, was looking into what it would take to build a school bus program from the ground up.
In addition to Robinson and Martin, speakers from the U.S. included:
• Randy Dorn, Washington state superintendent of public instruction
• Derek Graham, state pupil transportation director for North Carolina
• Murrell Martin, Utah state director
• Pat Snell, director of transportation, Broward County (Fla.) Public Schools
• Judy Shanley, director of student engagement and mobility management, Easter Seals Transportation Group
• Ken Hedgecock, vice president of sales, marketing and service, Thomas Built Buses
• Antonio Civitella, president and CEO, Transfinder
• Tom Mullins, senior account executive, Tyler Technologies
In the opening general session, Robinson gave an overview of the U.S. school bus industry and explained NAPT's goals.
"Regardless of where children go to school, or what language they speak, our primary objective as school transportation professionals is to ensure that every child arrives at school and returns home safely every day," she said.
Martin said later that Robinson has been so committed to that notion for so long that "it gave me goose bumps to watch her live in the moment that we were finally able to bring people from 17 countries together in support of safe and effective school transportation."